I had written this a while ago and posted it under my collection of one-shots. A few months ago, I updated it. I've decided to post it separately just because.
It's a ridiculous name for what he's going through. The term phantom pain makes it sound more like he gained a demonic spirit, when in reality he lost a limb. His right arm - gone. Now he's going to have to become romantically acquainted with his left hand. He gives it a shot when he finally gets a moment alone; when the nurses and doctors leave his room and he has a rare precious second to himself. He breathes in deep and exhales out slowly through tight lips. He reaches beneath his hospital gown. The first time he thought about masturbating here, he was cockblocked by a catheter. Now that they pulled it, he is free to try and jerk off at his leisure. He wraps his fingers, weak and shaky, around his flaccid cock. Lying in the uncomfortable hospital bed, he shifts awkwardly, trying to find a position that works better, that gives him a little leverage to compensate for muscles that refuse to work, but that's not the problem. He's never done this with his left hand before. It feels too foreign; not even like himself doing it, but a stranger.
It doesn't matter.
It's not the hand he wants.
He lets go and rolls onto his side, giving up.
He shuts his eyes and goes over the schedule for the day in his head.
Plans made for his release.
Preparations for outpatient physical and occupational therapy.
A brand new apartment.
All ways of getting over his loss and moving on.
But the doctors are wrong, each and every one of them wrong.
The phantom pain that incapacitates him has nothing to do with his missing arm and everything to do with his missing heart, lying on a gurney and locked in the refrigerator (the nurse's words, not his) down in the morgue.
Kurt … waiting for Sebastian to come down and say goodbye.
Sebastian's brother arrives after lunch to take him home.
Well, not home really, but the place he'll be living for now on.
His parents can't make it. Like with every monumental event in his life, they are abroad, escaping responsibility and reality by getting as far away from the situation as possible. This once, Sebastian can't blame them. He doesn't have much to say on behalf of his parents, but with all of their faults, there was one thing they did right.
They loved Kurt, too.
In the end, Sebastian can't say goodbye. He gets into the elevator with his brother holding his hand and a sympathetic female nurse smiling supportively by his side. But as they descend, as he sees the passing floors (when the doors open and other passengers get on and off) become emptier and darker, he feels a weight settle over him. The air becomes chill. Everything becomes quieter.
And Sebastian can feel ghosts watching him.
Two floors above their intended destination, Sebastian starts to hyperventilate. He pushes the red stop button and collapses to the floor, sobbing and choking like a lost child. He doesn't want to see his husband because it won't be him. It's not Kurt lying on a metal slab in some dark box keeping him cold. It's just a body, a corpse. It won't have his heat, his smell, his smile, his beautiful blue eyes, and his voice that will haunt Sebastian until the day he turns up his toes and joins him.
The nurse and his brother argue, voices muffled, as if he's hearing them from beneath a pool of water, and Sebastian's drowning while they're debating whether he should go back to his room or go home. His brother wins, pushing the button for the lobby and practically carrying Sebastian away, with the disgruntled nurse padding after them, muttering her objections until she realizes it won't do any good and lets them go.
Sebastian falls asleep in the back seat of his brother's rented town car with his head on his brother's shoulder. He doesn't remember knocking out, but mere seconds after sitting on the leather upholstery, his brother shakes him awake.
Sebastian wishes he hadn't.
With his face tilted toward the sunlight, he was dreaming about lying on the beach beside Kurt, holding hands and listening to the waves hit the shore.
When he opens his eyes, the bright day outside meets the brightness behind his eyes, but the real world is much more bleak.
"Come on," his brother says softly. "Come see your new home."
Sebastian gets out of the care and follows him, but he feels so far from it.
Sebastian doesn't really know where they are, only that it's in the same building as his brother and sister-in-law. A new apartment, still smelling of fresh carpet and paint, and not a single shred of his old life to be found – no pictures, none of Kurt's carefully chosen furnishings, none of Kurt's clothing or accessories or toiletries. Theoretically, a brand new start, a completely clean slate, but it's not. The ghosts followed Sebastian there, and he finds himself, night after night, awake on the sofa watching Korean soap operas, needing the verbal static to keep him sane.
His first week alone is nothing more than one long day punctuated by stretches of dark in between and a myriad of appointments so similar and unexceptional that they all bleed one into the other. A taxi takes him to doctor A, and an hour later from doctor A to doctor B, and again an hour later to doctor C. It's like déjà vu, starting from the drop off at the curb, to the long, musty elevator rides, to the exact same looking office in seven different buildings, sitting on similar, brown leather sofas, kept company by familiar-looking potted ferns, and gazing blankly out identical, rectangular windows.
Each doctor/counselor has their own spin on his situation, each appointment capped off with the gift of a journal to chronicle his struggle, his pain.
Acknowledge that it's real. Put it in writing.
"It's okay to talk about your feelings." journal
"It's okay to keep it inside." journal
"It's okay to reach out to others and ask for help." journal
"It's okay to be alone, take time for yourself." journal
And his favorite of the bunch: "The universe/fate/God has a plan. There are no accidents. Everything happens for a reason, even if you can't see it yet. Live your life, continue on, and eventually, it will become clear." journal, journal, journal
Because of that final platitude, Sebastian starts doing things that have absolutely no rhyme or reason.
He walks into the kitchen in the morning, fills his mug with hot coffee, and leaves it on the counter. An hour later, he returns and knocks it to the floor, letting it shatter into a hundred pieces. Then he walks away from the mess, leaving it to ruin the tile.
The next day, he buys a box of donuts - a baker's dozen, courtesy of the young woman behind the counter, who makes heart eyes at him, even though he grunts when he talks to her and looks like the walking dead – sits on his living room floor, and devours them one by one. He shoves them in his mouth whole, barely chews, then forces the large pieces down his throat with painful gulps. Later on, he throws it all back up. He doesn't eat anything else for the rest of the day.
The day after that, he goes to every thrift store he can find within walking distance of his apartment and buys every used knife they sell. When he has more than enough to open his own abattoir, he returns home and starts jamming the blades into the walls. It takes all his strength but he does it anyway, lines the hallways and the living room, stabbing straight through the dry wall, ending in the bedroom where he does the most damage – three hundred and fifty two knives in total - until his palm is blistered and the space between his thumb and forefinger bleed.
He goes back to his soaps and doesn't look at the knives again till bedtime.
When it comes time to pack it in for the night, he follows the path they make, brushing his bruised palms along the handles, but stops in the doorway of his bedroom when his attention is drawn to the far wall. He was certain he had stabbed the wall randomly, but instead he had created a mosaic in cutlery of a single word – Kurt.
Sebastian doesn't go back into the bedroom for several days after that, not until his brother and a few friends come over, remove all the knives, and repair the walls.
From that day on, Sebastian refuses to leave his apartment. He doesn't go to the doctors. He doesn't visit his brother. He doesn't get his mail or answer the door when anyone comes to call. He doesn't shave or change out of his pajamas. He doesn't even bathe. One evening, he discovers that his normal Korean soap has gone on hiatus and has been replaced with some game show where contestants take bites out of random objects in a room to see which ones are made out of chocolate.
For the first time in over a month, he turns off the TV.
He collects up the journals, seven in all, and stacks them in the center of the living room. Then he sits down with the column of journals in front of him. He takes the first one, opens it, and tears the pages from the spine one by one. It's difficult at first, having to hold the journal open with his leg and grab the pages with his least used hand, but soon he gets a rhythm going. He concentrates on the sound of paper rending, the thud-thud-thud as he slowly pulls it from the binding, or the loud screech when he rips it out quickly.
With the first journal in shreds, he tosses the binding aside and does the same to each of the remaining journals, tearing the pages out as time ticks by around him. His hand is sore when he reaches the final journal, but that doesn't matter. He doesn't care if it hurts. He doesn't care if it gets stuck in the garbage disposal, or chewed off by a dog. He doesn't really use it for anything worthwhile, doesn't contribute to the world at large. He's more than likely never going to play an instrument in his lifetime, couldn't care less if he doesn't play Overwatch or Fortnite with his brother the way he's been begging Sebastian to since he got out of the hospital.
And he sure as hell is never going to touch his husband again.
He might as well chop off the useless fucking thing.
He opens the last journal and grabs the top corner of the first page, preparing to rip, but then he looks at the page and stops. All of the journals before this one had been identical – black faux leather covers and lined pages, as if there was some grief relief supply store that every doctor shopped at and bought these things in bulk, wholesale no less. But this final journal was a light, walnut brown color, the binding soft instead of rigid, and the pages edged in gold. He can't remember which of the otherwise nameless PhD's had given him this one – the grief counselor with the gold-rimmed glasses and the tremulous little smile, or the body dysmorphia counselor who was once a drill sergeant in the marines before he lost both his legs and found his higher calling. Either way, something about this journal speaks to him, and no matter how hard he tries (and he does try), he can't tear a single page.
Sebastian stares at the empty pages. Without much thought, he stands up and carries the journal with him to the bedroom. He digs through a forest of amber prescription bottles in his bedside table and finds a black ballpoint pen. He sits on the bed and opens the journal to the first blank page, holding the pen above it. Several times he tries to write, and each time he stops. More than once he considers giving up and tossing the journal into the trash, but a voice in his head, a distant whisper, convinces him not to. He sighs and writes the first thing he thinks of.
He looks at the two words and scoffs. He remembers one of the counselors telling him he should try writing a list of the things he likes and dislikes about his life now. He can't come up with a single like, but the dislikes flow from his pen like The River Styx.
Living alone sucks.
Instant coffee sucks.
Holes in my walls suck.
Midtown Manhattan sucks.
He looks at the list and grimaces. It's far too simplistic to describe what he's feeling.
It sucks that nothing smells the same without you.
It sucks that I'll never have your Nutella crepes again.
It sucks that the last thing I said to you was, "Fucking shut up! I'm taking the L.I.E. and that's that!"
It sucks that you were right, and that I didn't listen to you … that I never listened to you.
He looks at the list again. He runs a hand over his eyes, wiping away the tears from his cheeks that start falling.
It sucks that I don't have a single recording of you singing.
It sucks that I let Charlie give away all of your clothes, and send all of our photos to your dad.
It sucks that I didn't tell you enough how much I really loved you.
The list becomes longer, the words not just written, but etched into the paper as he presses harder, nearly tearing through the pages.
It sucks that I was such a coward that I couldn't even say goodbye to you.
It sucks that we hadn't made love for two days before you died.
It sucks that we never had that daughter you always wanted, and I was too stubborn to get you a fucking cat.
He's sobbing uncontrollably by the time the book is halfway full, tears – some angry, some heavy with regret – wetting his face, his shirt, the pages. His handwriting is indecipherable, and sometimes not even in English, but there comes a point when he can't think of anything else to say, and his hand shakes so badly (seeing as he wasn't left-handed to begin with, and now he has to make due) that he doesn't have the strength to continue writing anymore.
He drops the pen and tries to read the final entry, but he can't hold the pages back with one shaking hand, so he tosses the journal over the side of the bed and crawls beneath the comforter, his entire body trembling with agony and despair. He's been a fighter his whole life, but he doesn't want to fight, not when there's nothing to fight for anymore.
When there's nobody in his life that makes the fighting worthwhile.
Without even realizing it, he's made a decision for the rest of his life. He just needs to find a way to carry it out.
He falls asleep, but he doesn't dream.
Instead he plans.
He's getting better at making plans and lists. He's good at dealing with the minutiae and the details.
It's the implementing he needs to practice more, but luckily he only needs one try to get this right.
The sun rises and for once he rises with it. He opens his bedside table and takes out the forest of pill bottles – sleeping pills, anti-depressants, pain relievers, stool softeners. He chuckles at the idea of overdosing on pills prescribed to make him regular while he lines up all the bottles and turns his forest into an army. He reaches for a tall, thin bottle, at peace with himself for the first time since he's left the hospital. He flips open the cap, preparing to down the whole thing, but a flash of brown catches his eye.
A shade of walnut brown that distinctly looks like the color of Kurt's hair.
Sebastian's body reacts, going rigid at first, and then dissolving with relief. He turns his head, flush with happiness, ready to greet his husband, willing to accept that everything that's happened in the last few months was just some horrible dream, even while his rational brain prepares him for the truth.
It's not Kurt. Of course it's not Kurt. These stories never have a happy ending.
It's the journal.
Sebastian turns his head and sees the abandoned journal lying on the carpet where he had tossed it. Except, not exactly where he remembers it landing, but that hardly matters. He should ignore it and continue on with his plan, but like the night before, there's something about it that Sebastian can't force himself to ignore. He stops mid-mouthful of what he discovers with amusement is actually a bottle of Vitamin D, and slides off the mattress onto the floor. He picks up the journal, better able to handle it now that his hand isn't shaking. He opens to the first page and sees the words he wrote, sloppy and slanted incorrectly, but relatively clear.
Sebastian has no intention of reading every word he wrote. Some of them aren't even legible. He catches snippets and pieces here and there among the miasma that make sense.
I miss you.
I can't live without you.
I love you.
Sebastian stops on four words nestled within the sloppy mess. They stand out because the handwriting is perfect - a graceful flourish of one letter morphing into the next, but most of all, because they are written in response to his own words:
I love you, too.
Sebastian squints, dumbfounded, but decides to let it go. He was frantic last night. Much of what he knows is his own handwriting looks alien. He catches more words and blurbs and phrases, some of them out-of-place and patently ridiculous, because they had been resolved and forgotten long ago … or so he thought.
I should have danced with you that night at Scandals.
I didn't really want anything to do with Blaine.
I couldn't take my eyes off of you.
I wanted so much to make you jealous.
Again, another phrase, written in response to his confession, catches his attention:
Sebastian's heart starts to speed. He's finally gone mad. He was going mad before, but the 2,000 mg of Vitamin D he swallowed must have tipped him over the edge, and now – visual hallucinations.
Were visual hallucinations a side-effect of too much Vitamin D? Didn't one of the counselors warn him about that? Which one? The guy with the unfortunate long neck who looked like an ostrich, or the woman with one too many face lifts to be real?
He flips through the journal to pages where words are steadily replaced by deep, dark marks that look like scars, until he finds something that's clear enough to read:
I'm scared that you were never really proud to be with me.
… with another separate response scrawled into the margin:
I was always proud to be with you.
Sebastian flips to the end. He knows there's probably more in the middle, but he needs to know how it ends. He used to do this with novels before he read them, and it always drove Kurt completely up a wall. But Sebastian couldn't help it.
He was too embarrassed to admit it, but he needed to know that everything turned out all right in the end.
He gets to the last few pages and finds the last passage he wrote.
I can't do this. I don't want to be alone. I need to end it now.
Sebastian gasps, hardly able to believe that he wrote those words. He definitely feels them, but to see them written so plainly makes it too real.
Kurt is dead, and Sebastian wants, more than anything, to be dead, too.
He sees the words in his peripheral vision before he registers their meaning, and he smiles – a true, honest smile. His face has become so unused to the concept that his cheeks hurt. He takes his time, savoring the idea of them being there before he flicks his eyes down the page. And when he reads them, he can hear Kurt's voice scolding him in his head:
Sebastian Smythe! Don't you dare do anything so stupid! This isn't the life I wanted for you, baby. Now get off your ass and for the sake of all that is good and sacred in this world … take a shower!
Sebastian laughs for a long time while he reads and re-reads those words. He's not completely convinced that he didn't write them himself in his agitated state, but it's nice to think that maybe, just maybe, Kurt was with him somehow - in a thought, a dream, or a few words in a journal, still with him.
Then Sebastian notices words further down the page, words he can swear weren't there a second ago.
But there they are now, and that makes all the difference.
Oh, darling. If you remember me, I'll always be with you.